The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival is Toronto’s longest running comedy festival and submissions for the 2023 Festival are now open. You might be asking yourself “how is TOsketchfest programmed?” or “what are they looking for this year?”. We are happy to share our programming principles to help answer some of your questions!
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival is programmed through a combination of curation (i.e. we ask a troupe/performer to be part of the festival) and jurying (i.e. a stand-out troupe or artist selected from the juried submissions process). This year live festival submissions will be collected via Zone, and film festival submissions will be collected via FilmFreeway.
The jury for the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival typically includes up to 25 people who are either alumni of the Festival, or have deep knowledge of the comedy community. The jury is selected by TOsketchfest producers, who also oversee the submission and jurying process. For 2023, the live festival submissions will be overseen by Damien Nelson, while the film festival submissions will be overseen by Ivan Hutomo. The jury members watch Festival submissions and help select the Festival lineup through recommendations and discussions. The list of jurors will be released after the programming announcement.
After submissions close, each Festival submission is watched by at least three jurors and given a rating of Recommend, Maybe, or Pass. TOsketchfest producers then meet with the jury to discuss submissions and ratings to make final decisions about what is included in the final Festival lineup. The jury could also be asked for recommendations should there be any missing voices from the selection.
Throughout the year, TOsketchfest producers also seek out potential programming options by watching sketch comedy videos online, and attending live performances and comedy festivals.
The 2023 Festival will also include The Curator Program, a new artistic programming initiative that invites five community leaders to take an active role in programming a showcase in a primetime Festival slot. The goal of the program is to identify and elevate emerging artists, spotlight established artists, and develop new audiences by providing stages for artists from Indigenous, Black, Person Of Colour, 2SLGBTQIAP, and Deaf/Disabled/Mad communities. These showcases will also be programmed through curation, and could also include work submitted to the festival through Zone and/or FilmFreeway.
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival is committed to supporting and strengthening a culturally diverse and inclusive sketch comedy community. The jury is instructed to consider artists from equity-deserving groups as a programming priority when making recommendations. The overall Festival program will be reviewed by jury and staff to ensure a balanced and representative program before it is finalized. Demographic information is collected from applicants on a voluntary basis to help the Festival track representation of equity-deserving groups in our programs. To ensure representation, the demographic make-up of the Festival program is reviewed and compared to multiple years of data before the program is finalized.
We will not program submissions that contain racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, or hateful language, imagery, or actions. We will make an effort to eliminate outmoded disability labels and language.
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival presents the best scripted comedy each year. Regardless of the troupe size or style – including solo – if the content is scripted/rehearsed and composed of sketches/bits/segments, it is considered “sketch.” While TOsketchfest does not typically program classic forms improv or stand-up, we are open to unusual or alternative comedy formats.
2023 FESTIVAL FORMAT
TOSketchFest23 will take place in-person March 8 – 19, 2023 with live presentations of sketch comedy work and the TOsketchfest Film Festival. This may or may not include online broadcasts of live in-person shows.
The festival will be scaled back compared to pre-COVID festivals, making the slots for the 2023 more competitive than previous years. Acceptance into past festivals does not guarantee a slot in future festivals.
TOSketchFest23 could program up to 50 troupes from anywhere in the world, with a strong priority for local and Canadian acts.
Live shows will return to a similar format as TOsketchfest 2020, 2019 etc. The Festival will host live, in-person sketch showcases in front of live audiences. These shows could include: full length revues; showcases featuring two-three troupes or solo acts with 15+ minute sets; or variety shows with short spotlights featuring many troupes or solo acts.
TOSketchFest Film Festival could program up to 30 Digital Shorts by artists from anywhere in the world, with a priority for local and Canadian acts.
There will be an in person screening of these works at The Theatre Centre (similar to TOsketchfest 2018-2020), with an option for online viewing.
STREAMS OF PROGRAMMING
The Festival traditionally has a few streams of programming: Emerging, Established, Featured and Headliner. The 2023 Festival will focus on these three streams:
- Emerging: Troupes or artists that are identified in the emerging stream might be first-time Festival performers, newly formed troupes or recent graduates from training programs. While some may appear “green”, these troupes or artists have made a professional commitment to the comedic arts, and have demonstrated artistic achievements. The troupe or artists must have some history of performance on stage or online.
- Established: This stream includes troupes or artists that may have performed at the Festival in the past, troupes with a history of artistic achievement, and newly formed projects by established artists. These troupes or artists have a strong following of fans in person or online, a repertoire of high-quality material and a track record of local and touring success in recent years.
- Featured: This stream features troupes or artists who are currently at the top of their game and/or representing a vitally important point of view and should be introduced to a wider audience through the Festival. They will guarantee our audiences a great show and deserve to be highlighted at this time in their development.
The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival will revisit its programming principles and jurying process each year to reflect the needs of the community. TOSketchFest will actively seek to find qualified jurors with a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. The Festival is committed to improving the programming process to reduce barriers for artists, and to continue spotlighting best scripted comedy.